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UN to set up war crimes panel for Syria investigations

The UN has approved a resolution to set up a panel to gather evidence of possible war crimes in Syria. Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said the resolution was illegal and a threat to a solution to the conflict. The 193-member body adopted a resolution Wednesday by a vote of 105 to 15 with 52 abstentions. Iran, China and Russia - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main ally - were among the countries which voted against. "The General Assembly today demonstrated that it can take the reins on questions of justice in the face of a Security Council deadlock," said Balkees Jarah of Human Rights Watch. "The countries that voted for this unprecedented Syria resolution took a critically important stand for victims of grave crimes." The resolution stresses the need for the new body "to closely coordinate" with an independent commission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council which has said war crimes are "rampant" in Syria. Syria and her ally Russia accused the assembly of interfering in the work of the Security Council. Syria's Ambassador Bashar Jafaari slammed the measure, saying it was contrary to the UN charter and a "flagrant interference in the internal affairs of a UN member-state." The resolution tasks the UN secretary-general to report within 20 days on the establishment of the new panel, which will be funded by the United Nations. It will set up an "international, impartial and independent mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious crimes" in Syria since March 2011, when the conflict began. The panel will "collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses and prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings," according to the draft text. Aleppo aid convoy attacked from the air Meanwhile, a UN inquiry has concluded that a UN aid convoy that was bombed while en route to the besieged city of Aleppo in September had come under air attack, but was unable to identify the perpetrators. In a summary of the findings released on Wednesday, the UN said the convoy had been "subject to an attack from the air, using multiple types of munitions deployed from more than one aircraft and aircraft type." At least 10 people were killed and 22 injured in the September 19 attack at Urem al-Kubra, near Aleppo, as a fragile ceasefire agreed to by the US and Russia collapsed. The inquiry panel said it had received reports that three Syria helicopters and three aircraft were "highly likely" to have perpetrated the attack and that a Russian plane was also suspected of being involved. "However, the board did not have access to raw data to support these assertions and, in their absence, it was unable to draw a definitive conclusion," the inquiry reported. Russia and Syria have denied involvement in the bombing. The board of inquiry, led by retired Indian general Abhijit Guha, was not allowed to visit the scene of the attack in Urem al-Kubra, but it did travel to Syria in early December.

The UN has approved a resolution to set up a panel to gather evidence of possible war crimes in Syria. Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said the resolution was illegal and a threat to a solution to the conflict. The 193-member body adopted a resolution Wednesday by a vote of 105 to 15 with 52 abstentions. Iran, China and Russia ... Read More »

Aleppo evacuation back on, say rebel sources

Violence restarted in war-ravaged Aleppo, hours after a failed deal to evacuate civilians. Syrian rebel forces said evacuations from Aleppo are expected to begin "within hours." A military spokesman for the Nour al-Din al Zinki rebel group told news agency Reuters on Wednesday that "an agreement has been reached and within the coming hours its implementation will begin." Officials from the Jabha Shamiya rebel group said the evacuations from Aleppo are expected to begin around 6 a.m. local time (0400 UTC) on Thursday. After Wednesday morning's truce agreement stalled, the new deal included the evacuation of civilians from two rebel-held Shiite areas in the Idlib province outside of Aleppo. Syrian military officials, however, sent mixed messages concerning the truce. Initially, a pro-Damascus military official confirmed the deal, saying that 15,000 people from the Idlib villages of Foua and Kefraya would be evacuated, in return for the evacuation of "militants and their families and whoever wants to leave among civilians" from Aleppo's rebel enclaves. A second military source denied the development, however, saying that negotiations were ongoing. Meanwhile the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said hostilities in Aleppo were yet to cease. "Bombing is ongoing, no one can move. Everyone is hiding and terrified," Syrian activist Mohammad al-Khatib said. "The wounded and dead are lying in the street. No one dares to try and retrieve the bodies." The deal was also thrown into doubt after a military media unit run by Hezbollah, Lebanon's armed Shiite group and ally of Assad, said "the negotiations are seeing big complications, in light of tension and operations on the front lines." Aleppo ceasefire deal derails Evacuations were initially scheduled to begin on Wednesday morning after a ceasefire deal was reached between Russia, Assad's main coalition ally, and Turkey, a leading backer of rebel forces. The deal faltered, however, after Syrian military forces resumed heavy shelling on Wednesday. Residents who turned up at agreed meeting points to evacuate the city Wednesday morning were turned away by pro-government forces manning the checkpoints. "People have left their shelters .... to be ready for the evacuation. I can't describe it," Mohammed Abu Jaafar, head of forensics in eastern Aleppo said. "Since the morning, they started to target the areas where people have gathered ... These people were walking to the crossings designated for exit." On Wednesday, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the shelling by Syrian government forces and their allies "most likely constitutes war crimes." Syrian Pressident Basahr al-Assad defended the offensive, claiming that the latest lull in the fighting was part of a Western plan, aimed at stopping his government's advance in the city. Assad told Russian TV on Wednesday that the truce would "keep the terrorists and save them." Turkish officials are scheduled to meet with Russian and Iranian counterparts on December 27 to discuss a political solution to the conflict. "We are striving to secure a ceasefire throughout the country and for negotiations for a political solution to start," Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said on Wednesday.

Violence restarted in war-ravaged Aleppo, hours after a failed deal to evacuate civilians. Syrian rebel forces said evacuations from Aleppo are expected to begin “within hours.” A military spokesman for the Nour al-Din al Zinki rebel group told news agency Reuters on Wednesday that “an agreement has been reached and within the coming hours its implementation will begin.” Officials from ... Read More »

Russia, China block UN resolution for Aleppo ceasefire

Moscow has rejected the UN Security Council resolution for a ceasefire, citing a pending agreement with Washington, a Russian official said. But an American diplomat described the claim as a "made up alibi." Russia and China on Monday blocked a UN Security Council resolution aimed at establishing a seven-day ceasefire in the besieged city of Aleppo in Syria. Sponsored by Egypt, Spain and New Zealand, the resolution demanded that conflicting parties in Aleppo cease "any and all attacks in the city of Aleppo." Russia, a key ally to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, expressed doubts over the text in the run-up to the vote. Moscow had called for the vote to take place on Tuesday to give time for Russian and American officials to meet in Geneva. The meeting reportedly concerns a deal to allow rebels in the besieged city to withdraw, which Syrian opposition forces have outright rejected. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said that Washington and Moscow "are close to an agreement on the basic elements." 'Made up alibi' However, deputy US envoy Michele Sison said that Churkin's claim of an agreement was a "made up alibi." "We will not let Russia string along the Security Council while waiting for a compromise that never seems to come," Sison said. "We will continue bilateral negotiations (with Russia) to relieve the suffering in Aleppo, but we have no reached a breakthrough because Russia wants to keep its military gains." Moscow has blocked a total of six Security Council resolutions on Syria, while Beijing has vetoed five. Russian forces joined the multifaceted conflict in September 2015, launching airstrikes against terrorist groups in a bid to strengthen Assad's regime. However, US-backed opposition forces have been targeted in the aerial campaign, according to rebel groups. More than 300,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced since the conflict erupted in 2011, when government forces launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters calling for Assad to step down.

Moscow has rejected the UN Security Council resolution for a ceasefire, citing a pending agreement with Washington, a Russian official said. But an American diplomat described the claim as a “made up alibi.” Russia and China on Monday blocked a UN Security Council resolution aimed at establishing a seven-day ceasefire in the besieged city of Aleppo in Syria. Sponsored by ... Read More »

Syrian army advances in Aleppo displace thousands

Civilians have fled eastern Aleppo as government forces continue their assault on Syria's second city. In the past 13 days, regime bombardments have killed more than 200 civilians - including at least 25 children. Rebel defenses collapsed and troops marched deep into eastern Aleppo as a government assault continuedSunday. The regime's push came after intense bombardment with airstrikes, shells and barrel bombs. "The army's rapid advance is due to its strategy of attacking east Aleppo on several fronts, weakening the rebels," said Rami Abdurrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According to the opposition-aligned NGO, over the past day nearly 1,700 civilians have fled to government-held parts of western Aleppo and another 2,500 to the Kurdish-controlled northern district of Sheikh Maksoud. Dozens of families have fled the districts of Sakhur and Haidariya as regime raids and artillery fire killed at least 18 civilians in several districts, the Observatory reported. Government assaults have killed more than 200 civilians in eastern Aleppo since November 15. "We are strengthening our positions to defend the city and residents, but the aircraft are destroying everything methodically, area by area," said Yasser al-Youssef, of the rebel group Nour el-Din el-Zinki. "The planes have destroyed everything - stones, trees and people - in a systematic policy of destruction." Rising death toll State media broadcast images of civilians gathering around buses to evacuate a rebel-held district. Food has become scarce in the area, and the aid group Doctors Without Borders has reported that relentless airstrikes by regime forces and allied Russia have left eight out of nine hospitals no longer functioning. Syria's civil war began in 2011 after the government brutally put down protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. In the intervening five years, it has evolved into a complex multi-front conflict involving different factions and foreign powers. The war has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced more than half the population - at least 11 million people. Nearly 500,000 children are cut off from food and medical aid and live under siege conditions in Syria, according to UNICEF - a number that has doubled in less than a year. Many spend days underground; hospitals, schools and homes remain vulnerable to aerial bombardment. "Children are being killed and injured, too afraid to go to school or even play, surviving with little food and hardly any medicine," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. An inquiry by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN found that government forces have used chlorine barrel bombs against civilians. Syrian authorities have denied using chemical weapons in the conflict.

Civilians have fled eastern Aleppo as government forces continue their assault on Syria’s second city. In the past 13 days, regime bombardments have killed more than 200 civilians – including at least 25 children. Rebel defenses collapsed and troops marched deep into eastern Aleppo as a government assault continuedSunday. The regime’s push came after intense bombardment with airstrikes, shells and ... Read More »

UN: nearly one million Syrians live under siege

The UN aid chief has raised the alarm for nearly one million people living under siege in war-torn Syria. The number has more than doubled in the past six months. The UN under-secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien told the UN Security Council that 974,080 people were currently living under siege in Syria. That number stood at just under 487,000 six months ago. Since July, 275,000 more people have reportedly come under siege in eastern Aleppo alone, where government forces have been making advances against rebels. In eastern Aleppo, O'Brien said, humanitarian conditions had worsened "from terrible to terrifying and now barely survivable." New areas that have reportedly come under siege in the past weeks and months include Joubar near Damascus, al-Hajar al-Aswad, Khan al-Shih, and multiple locales in the enclave of eastern Ghutah east of Damascus. "Civilians are being isolated, starved, bombed and denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance in order to force them to submit or flee. It is a deliberate tactic of cruelty to compound a people's suffering for political, military and in some cases economic gain," O'Brien said, adding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad aim was to destroy and defeat a civilian population that cannot defend itself. Situation particularly hopeless in Aleppo O'Brien's assessment built on growing international concern over the fate of Aleppo in particular, where 250,000 people continue to be trapped in the east of the city under a government siege, as Assad's military appears to advance. The prospect of Aleppo's recapture by government forces would be the biggest victory for the regime in the country's brutal five-year conflict. A European diplomat told the Agence France Presse news agency (AFP) that the Syrian government's capture of east Aleppo appeared to be only a matter of time: "Now, it's just a question of how long they (rebel forces) can hold on," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There is nothing to eat, no more hospitals and the bombardment is non-stop. They are under very strong pressure." Rebel forces have steadily been losing ground since Syrian ally Russia decided to intervene Russia decided to intervene in the conflict last year in order to boost Assad's government. Aleppo has been ravaged by the conflict that began with anti-government protests in March 2011. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of informants on the ground in Syria, said that more than 100 civilians had been killed in east Aleppo in the past week alone, including at least 15 who died in regime air strikes, barrel bomb attacks and artillery fire. Meanwhile rebels were also reported to have fired rockets onto government-held west Aleppo, killing 10 people including eight children on the weekend. No progress in sight UN envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura meanwhile finished a visit to Damascus after the Syrian government rebuffed his plan for a truce in Aleppo that included opposition administration of eastern areas. "We told him that we reject that completely," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said about the negotiations. De Mistura warned that time was "running out" for east Aleppo, pointing out that there was concern about "an acceleration of military activities" in the city. US President Barack Obama also said he was "not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria." The long road to justice Meanwhile the US on Monday named 13 Syrian generals and officers accused of leading attacks on civilian targets, with its UN ambassador Samantha Power warning they would come to face justice one day. "The United States will not let those who have commanded units involved in these actions hide anonymously behind the facade of the Assad regime," Power told the Security Council, stressing that the United States also knows places where torture allegedly takes place in Syria. "I know right now, today, with wind at their backs, these individuals feel impunity," Power said, while reminding them that others who felt the same way in the past included Bosnian Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic and Liberian president Charles Taylor, who were eventually arrested and brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Power also said the United States was aware that opposition groups and so-called "Islamic State" (IS) extremists had also committed abuses, but didn't identify any individuals.

The UN aid chief has raised the alarm for nearly one million people living under siege in war-torn Syria. The number has more than doubled in the past six months. The UN under-secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council that 974,080 people were currently living under siege in Syria. That number ... Read More »

Aleppo hospitals out of service as Syrian regime intensifies assault

All hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo have been put out of order by a Syrian regime offensive. Food, water and medical supplies for 250,000 civilians are running out. All hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo are out of service as the Syrian government and allied forces fire artillery and drop bombs in a renewed offensive, the city's health directorate and a medical charity said. The Omar Bin Abdul Aziz Hospital was destroyed by regime artillery fire on Friday, knocking out the last functioning hospital in eastern Aleppo, the Union of Syrian Medical Organizations (UOSSM) said. Four other hospitals, including a pediatric center, were also closed down on Friday after being hit by regime artillery, airstrikes and barrel bombs. "This comes in light of the quickly deteriorating situation in eastern Aleppo as medical care and supplies are running extremely low," Dr. Ayham Al Zoebi of UOSSM said in a statement. Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) confirmed that medical staff and patients had been killed in attacks and hospitals put out of order, including a children's hospital that was hit twice by airstrikes. "The severity of the bombing has inflicted huge damage on the few hospitals working around the clock to provide medical care," said MSF emergency coordinator Teresa Sancristoval. "The attacks have destroyed entire hospitals, electric generators, emergency rooms and wards, forcing them to stop all medical activities." The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some makeshift medical facilities were still operating but people were afraid to leave their homes. Rights groups and the opposition have repeatedly accused Syria and Russia of targeting medical facilities; charges they deny. White House national security adviser Susan Rice called for an immediate end to "horrific attacks" on hospitals and medical workers, and urged Russia, Syria's ally, to help put an end to the violence. "The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia in particular, bears responsibly for the immediate and long term consequences these actions have caused in Syria and beyond," she said in a statement. The UN warned on Friday that they had been unable to provide aid to eastern Aleppo for months, meaning that trapped civilians faced a "very bleak moment" with dwindling food and medical supplies, little clean water and winter fast approaching. The UN has blamed Syria, Russia and rebels for the fighting and for blocking humanitarian deliveries. On Saturday, the UN condemned the surge in fighting and called for all parties to halt the violence and allow humanitarian aid into Aleppo and other parts of the country. Speaking to the Berlin newspaper "Der Tagesspiegel" on Saturday, the head of international cooperation at the German Red Crescent, Christof Johnen, warned that the entire infrastructure of the city - from electricity to water and sewage - could collapse into a "fatal downward spiral." The Syrian army, Iranian forces, Iraqi Shiite militia and Hezbollah launched a renewed offensive on Tuesday against eastern Aleppo, where some 250,000 civilians have been trapped since July, after regime-allied forces surrounded the rebel bastion. Residents and monitors have described the offensive as one of the most intense since the city was divided between government and rebel forces in 2012. On Saturday alone, the White Helmets rescue group said 38 civilians had been killed after more than 250 airstrikes and 2,500 artillery rounds had targeted eastern Aleppo. "It is a catastrophic day in besieged Aleppo with unprecedented bombardment with every type of weapon," a member of the White Helmets said in a video posted on the organization's Facebook page. The group has said they are struggling to conduct rescue operations given the scale of the bombing. "People went to sleep to the sound of bombardment and awoke to the sound of bombardment," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The monitoring group has documented at least 90 deaths since Tuesday, a number that is likely to rise. Period of relative respite ends Up until this week, opposition-controlled areas of the city had experienced a period of relative respite since October 18, when Russia and Syria announced a series of unilateral ceasefires and Moscow said it would refrain from bombing the city. Russia and Syria said the ceasefires were designed to allow residents to flee, but few left. An alliance of rebels and jihadists used the lull in fighting to launch an offensive on government-controlled western Aleppo, killing dozens of civilians before a regime counterattack pushed the rebels back. The Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian regime aims to retake all of Aleppo, the country's largest city and commercial center before the war. Recapturing the city would deal a major blow to rebels and jihadist factions. Russia, which intervened in Syria in September 2015 to support President Bashar al-Assad, has said its forces were not participating in the offensive against eastern Aleppo. Instead, the Russian defense ministry has said its warplanes and cruise missiles were targeting an alliance of rebels and jihadists in Idlib, Homs and northern Aleppo provinces.

All hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo have been put out of order by a Syrian regime offensive. Food, water and medical supplies for 250,000 civilians are running out. All hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo are out of service as the Syrian government and allied forces fire artillery and drop bombs in a renewed offensive, the city’s health directorate and a ... Read More »

Assad regime erases gains by Syrian rebels in Aleppo

Regime forces have regained areas on the edge of Aleppo that rebels had taken over the past two weeks. The most recent combat has left more than 450 people dead - including civilians and fighters from both sides. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces and their allies have regained control of two districts in western Aleppo that rebels had taken in their major offensive to break the monthslong military siege of the city's opposition-held east. In July, regime forces forces surrounded the rebel-held district, severing the last supply line into opposition neighborhoods and imposing a blockade that has led to food and fuel shortages. No international aid has entered the area since. The rebels opened a corridor to the area in August, which allowed some supplies to filter in to civilians and allied factions, but the military forced them back again in September. Opposition forces launched their most recent another offensive on October 28. Aleppo became an opposition stronghold during 2011's pro-democracy protests and the regime crackdown and war that have followed. The city's division began in mid-2012, and in September the government announced an operation to recapture all of Aleppo. In a shocking deviation from international norms, US President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he could support efforts by Russia and the regime in Syria. Russia's regime support Russia's Defense Ministry will require the UN to confirm that it can deliver aid to Aleppo before the Kremlin agrees to any new humanitarian pauses in fighting in the shattered Syrian city. Ministry officials say previous temporary ceasefires on the ground - called to allow aid deliveries and evacuate civilians - have come to nothing because rebels have opened fire on anyone trying to come in or out. Backed by Russian warplanes, the government's most recent assault has killed hundreds of people in Aleppo and damaged and destroyed infrastructure - including hospitals. The government's most recent advances came as speculation has grown that Russia could prepare to provide air support for the Syrian army to capture other rebel-held parts of Aleppo. According to the Observatory, more than 450 fighters and civilians have died in the two weeks of battles. The dead include 215 opposition troops, including some who carried out suicide bomb attacks, and 143 regime forces. Nearly 100 civilians also died in the fighting - the majority of them in government-held west Aleppo - including 29 children. On Thursday, the United Nations warned that the quarter of a million residents of eastern Aleppo could starve as rations continue to run low. More than 300,000 people have died in Syria's five-year multifront war.

Regime forces have regained areas on the edge of Aleppo that rebels had taken over the past two weeks. The most recent combat has left more than 450 people dead – including civilians and fighters from both sides. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces and their allies have regained control of two districts in western ... Read More »

Children in Aleppo: ‘I’d rather die’

Aleppo has become "a slaughterhouse," says the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. The situation for children there is especially serious. Experts are warning of depression and suicidal thoughts among the young. The image burns itself into your brain: little Omran from the Syrian city of Aleppo sitting in an ambulance, staring into space, covered in blood, clothes torn, his hair full of dust. The photograph, taken by an activist a few weeks ago, provoked horror around the world. We can only surmise from this little child's stunned expression what the war in his homeland has done to him, and to many other children and youngsters like him. Aleppo has again been forced to endure weeks of bombing by the Syrian and Russian regimes. A ceasefire was in place over the weekend. Of all the cities caught up in the Syrian civil war, Aleppo is the most fiercely contested. According to the UN, more than 250,000 people are trapped under siege in the eastern part of town. The recent bombardments were the heaviest since the start of the war in 2011. In the last offensive alone, which began on September 22, more than 500 people were killed and 2,000 wounded. Around a quarter of the victims were children - and that number could rise dramatically, as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are around 100,000 children and young people in eastern Aleppo. 'Medieval conditions' In an October 21 speech via video link to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al Hussein, said the siege and bombardment of Aleppo "constitute crimes of historic proportions." This ancient Syrian city, "a place of millennial civility and beauty," was today, he said, "a slaughterhouse." Although Russia agreed to the ceasefire, the sick and injured could not be brought out of the city. The United Nations said it was unsafe to transport them, and secretary-general Ban Ki Moon pointed out that: "Under these medieval conditions, the vulnerable are suffering the most." Suicidal thoughts among children Katharina Ebel, the project advisor of SOS Children's Villages in Syria, confirmed that this is indeed the case. The children are under tremendous psychological strain, she said, warning of severe depression that could even lead to children having suicidal thoughts. "One boy who wanted to take his own life was only 12 years old," she told the "Passauer Neue Presse" newspaper. "So far we've always been able to prevent children from killing themselves," Ebel went on. But she reported that every day there are children who say, "I'd rather die than go on like this." Deep depression drives them to commit acts of aggression, against both themselves and others. "Many of them can't sleep any more, or have nightmares, and then they're completely exhausted during the day," she said. Children describe the rigors of their everyday lives on the website of UNICEF's #ChildrenofSyria campaign. Not only do they risk being killed on the way to school, the schools themselves are also often attacked - around 4,000 times since the war began. And even those who try to take shelter may be killed: The organization Save the Children has reported that so-called "bunker buster" bombs are being used. Some experiences are too extreme SOS Children's Villages have psychologists and social workers in every facility, "who talk to the children individually, try to alleviate their trauma, restore the children's sense of trust," Ebel said. "Sometimes it's just not possible, because what they've experienced is too extreme. Often, when a child has seen their parents die, seen them buried under rubble, seen their home destroyed, their sense of security is lost for a very long time." The Syrian winter will start to set in in just a few weeks' time. UNICEF warns that many children and their families have reached the end of their strength. Children are especially at risk from the freezing temperatures and snowstorms that have often occurred in recent years. The aid organization is also very worried about the children in the Iraqi city of Mosul, 600 kilometers (370 miles) further east. It warns that the current offensive to recapture the city means the more than 500,000 children and their families there are now in extreme danger.

Aleppo has become “a slaughterhouse,” says the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. The situation for children there is especially serious. Experts are warning of depression and suicidal thoughts among the young. The image burns itself into your brain: little Omran from the Syrian city of Aleppo sitting in an ambulance, staring into space, covered in blood, clothes torn, his hair ... Read More »

Aleppo rebels issue warning to civilians

Rebels and government troops resumed fighting Sunday morning after a three-day ceasefire failed to provide civilians a way out of the city. The leading moderate rebel coalition warned all non-combatants to stay away from government positions as they redoubled their attack. Fighting broke out in the city's southern neighborhoods as pro-Damascus troops also laid siege to the key village of Khan Touman, which lies along the highway connecting Aleppo and Syria's other major cities. The town has been held by al-Qaeda linked insurgents since last May. A TV channel run by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, broadcast footage of government tanks taking heavy fire as they rolled through the countryside just outside Aleppo. Siege brings devastation to civilians Once Syria's second city, Aleppo has become the focal point of a last-ditch effort on all sides to bring a decisive end to the country's protracted and asymmetrical conflict. This has led to a devastating situation for civilians, who, especially in the east, have been blocked on all sides by fighting and are not only unable to evacuate, but are also hindered from getting much-needed humanitarian aid. This crisis has been compounded by Russian airstrikes and government attacks that have seemingly targeted aid convoys. It was because of this situation that Moscow announced a three-day cessation of hostilities to begin on Thursday. The Syrian regime had set up eight corridors to allow rebels and civilians to evacuate the city, but the United Nations said they were not provided with the proper safety guarantees to either carry out an evacuation or provide aid supplies. Russia defended its resumption of airstrikes on Saturday, saying that the Kremlin was determined to rid ally Syria of "terrorists." "Some countries are trying to play with the devil and use terrorists to get rid of [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, and some just say thoughtlessly that Assad must leave," said government spokesman Dmitry Peskov. "If Damascus falls and terrorists take hold there, there will be no political settlement then." The siege of Aleppo has already claimed the lives of some 500 civilians in just the past month.

The last-ditch effort to take the city once and for all has restarted in earnest. A three-day ceasefire failed to provide aid or allow civilians to evacuate. Rebels and government troops resumed fighting Sunday morning after a three-day ceasefire failed to provide civilians a way out of the city. The leading moderate rebel coalition warned all non-combatants to stay away ... Read More »

Russia accuses Belgium of bombing civilian targets in Syria

The foreign ministry in Moscow has summoned Belgium's ambassador following claims that Brussels' fighter jets bombed civilians in a village in Aleppo province. Belgium has denied the charge. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed that Belgian Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen had appeared at the ministry in response to a summons after Moscow alleged that two Belgian F-16s had bombed a village. Moscow had claimed on Thursday that two Belgian F-16 fighter jets flying from a base in Jordan bombed the village of Hassajek in the war-ravaged Aleppo province on Tuesday, killing six people, Russia's state-financed broadcaster "Russia Today" said. Later that day, Belgian Defense Minister Steven Vandeput issued a statement saying the identification numbers of the two aircraft did not belong to the Belgian airforce. He also demanded a "formal retraction of this groundless and unsubstantiated allegation." Belgium 'deceiving' world Russia's foreign ministry condemned the denial, saying Vandeput was "deliberately deceiving people in Belgium and elsewhere in the world, or his subordinates and the Americans are lying to the leadership of Belgium," RT quoted Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying. Belgium is part of the US-led coalition fighting "Islamic State" militants in Syria. According to Konashenkov, the Belgian warplanes struck the village in Aleppo at 00:35 GMT on Tuesday, killing six civilians and wounding four others. The planes were tracked to Iraq and to Deir ez Zor in Syria, where a US KC-153 tanker refuelled them. He said that his country had "effective air defense measures" that were capable of monitoring the sky above almost all of Syria. "Detailed information about the operation of the Belgian F-16's in the Syrian sky will be delivered to the Belgian side through diplomatic and military channels," he added. The Russian general emphasized that this was "not the first time when the international coalition conducted airstrikes against civilian targets and later denied responsibility for them." Russian flotilla nears English channel Meanwhile, EU leaders on Friday debated ways to tackle Moscow as a flotilla of Russian warships neared the English Channel en route to Syria's coast. The leaders discussed Syria and the Russian annexation of Crimea, but stopped short of issuing sanctions. British warships had been sent to shadow Russian aircraft carriers, news agencies reported. British frigate HMS Richmond escorted Admiral Kuznetsov and HMS Duncan sailed from Portsmouth to monitor the ships' passage. The vessels were sailing in international waters and NATO forces, including those of Norway, the Netherlands and Britain will not be able to restrict their movement. "Russia's strategy is to weaken the EU," European Council President Donald Tusk said ahead of a two-day meeting in Brussels. Referring to the ongoing truce in Syria, French President Francois Hollande said it was imperative to find a path "toward talks and negotiations and to bring an end to atrocities that we have witnessed for too long." Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said that the EU ministers had approved a document which pushed the need to come to an agreement as soon as possible and reach a real truce.

The foreign ministry in Moscow has summoned Belgium’s ambassador following claims that Brussels’ fighter jets bombed civilians in a village in Aleppo province. Belgium has denied the charge. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed that Belgian Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen had appeared at the ministry in response to a summons after Moscow alleged that two Belgian F-16s had bombed ... Read More »

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